My Terrible 24 Hour Trip to Honolulu

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
The palm trees next to the USS Arizona Memorial, since I didn’t manage to see Pearl Harbor

In three weeks of solo travelling, my trip to Honolulu yielded my only true misadventure. I was in Hobart on the 8th, Melbourne on the 9th and Honolulu on the 9th because I crossed back over the dateline. I was a mess by the time I arrived in Honolulu at six in the morning. I was so provoked by the ten hour flight, I would have strangled someone if I wasn’t so dehydrated – water was an in flight extra. I left the airport with no knowledge of Honolulu, no sense of direction and no American money.

In spite of all that, everything was fine when I arrived at my hostel. I ate a lovely, inexpensive breakfast next to rain-washed Waikiki Beach. I had all the makings of a good day until I went to every coffee shop in the area and couldn’t find one that would accept my Canadian debit card. I despaired until two people from my room offered me a lift to Safeway. I don’t often get in cars with strangers but they told me Safeway offered cash back so I peeled my sorry ass off my bunk bed and prepared to meet my money.

Forty minutes later, I sat in the parking lot washing down macadamia nuts with half a litre of cold brew while I formulated a plan. I was determined to make it to Pearl Harbor – the only attraction I knew on Oahu – for the lowest possible cost. Instead of arranging for a tour bus, I opted to take an hour and a half’s trip on the city bus.

The bus did not take the scenic route. It travelled through the worst parts of Oahu and picked up passengers that looked tougher and meaner the further we travelled. Twenty minutes into the trip, I knew my bladder wouldn’t hold until Pearl Harbor. After a half hour of looking out the window for a stopping point that didn’t look dodgy, I jumped off and headed to an innocuous looking Burger King. Burger King denied me the washroom so I ran across to a battered strip mall. I ended up inside Chinatown Market Place, which looked as battered as the building exterior. As I sat charging my phone next to a butcher’s stall, and I got a bubble tea from an astounded young man who couldn’t comprehend how a Canadian had ended up in a strip mall in Kalihi-Palama.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Waikiki Beach

Back on the bus with my bubble tea stowed in my bag, the area I passed through looked increasingly grim. I asked myself, Are we driving by a prison or a building that just looks like a prison? What I saw was the airport’s infrastructure; the prison was two minutes up the road.

I was about ready to wet myself by the time I reached Pearl Harbor. (Bubble tea does not an effective transit snack make.) I arrived just in time from the closure of everything at the USS Arizona Memorial, included the much-needed washrooms. The trip had taken me two and a half hours and culminated with a view of a barricade and a sign marked ‘Closed.’

I went to the nearest pub for a washroom and phone charge. I drank a beer on the balcony overlooking ’Aiea Bay and told myself about twelve times that this was nice and I wasn’t lost at all. I caught an Uber from the middle of the darkened parking lot where my Pearl Harbor journey had begun. The Uber back to my hostel cost as much as a Pearl Harbor tour bus would have.

I flew out of Honolulu at six the next morning. I returned to Honolulu exactly two months after on a layover from midnight until my flight’s nine o’clock take off. All I saw on that trip was the Don Quijote 24 hour store and the inside of the airport. Maybe next time I’m in Honolulu I’ll see something other than a grocery store.

Song of the Day: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest

I Got Drunk and Hiked a Mountain So You Wouldn’t Have To

    Mount Wellington, Hobart, Tasmania, AustraliaA portrait of an unimpressed woman at the top of Mount Wellington

I hadn’t intended to get drunk and hike a mountain when I set out that morning in Hobart, Tasmania. My plans for the day were completely innocuous: a coffee in the morning followed by a walk by the rivulet. I walked along in nature, conversing with wallabies, eating a scone that tasted like grass and feeling very wholesome overall. That is until I realized I was inadvertently en route to the nearest brewery. Never one to overlook an opportunity, I decided to visit Cascade Brewery.

Rivulet, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Hobart Rivulet

In many ways, I should have been commended for arriving just ten minutes past noon; it was indicative of my morning productivity. I caught a few side eyes as I sat down in the sun with my tasting flight but I was unperturbed. I was living my best life. To be fair, I didn’t get drunk while I was there. I drank less than two pints total but they were two pints that made me feel.

When I took off afterward on an unknown path, I realized I was en route to Mount Wellington. In a rare moment of hubris, I decided that I was well capable of making a quick jaunt up the mountain. As I started along the path I fancied myself an expert solo hiker, recounting to myself the details of all my past hiking successes. Not once did I think about the time I ended up stuck on a cliff edge after ambling through a pathless forest. I was an adventurer whose journeys had yielded nothing but successes.

Cascade Brewery, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Cascade Brewery

I ate all my trail mix within the first fifteen minutes. I drank all my water within the first forty-five. I was resilient, albeit a little peckish. An hour into my hike I realized I was nowhere close to a washroom. An hour and fifteen minutes in, I didn’t care. I was having the time of my life, though I was getting a little tired of inclines instead of grassy meadows. As the inclines grew steeper, I realized with horror that I was only halfway up the mountain. In fact, as a consequence of taking the path from the brewery, I was hiking up the mountain by the longest route possible.

By the time I neared the summit I was sobered up, dehydrated and in an altogether terrible mood. I thought close to an hour of navigating across rock piles would lead to a more appreciable result but I still had another path to follow before I reached the summit. This path, too, was devoid of facilities. I was so thirsty I thought about trying to hitch a ride with one of the passing cars.

Mount Wellington, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
The view from Mount Wellington

When I finally reached the apex of Mount Wellington, I was rewarded with a full view of Hobart and its surroundings, alongside hundreds of tourists in flip flops and summer dresses. I climbed three and a half hours up the mountain only to realize everyone else had gotten there by bus. I was too angry to even celebrate the completion of the hike. I stuck a middle finger at some tour buses and started back down the mountain with all the water the bathroom tap would allow.

Not long into my descent, I passed a sweaty German couple who asked if the view at the summit as worth the hike. I told them it was worth it so long as they were willing to look past the people up there in sandals. The woman said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I was not. There were far easier methods for reaching the top of Mount Wellington.

MONA, Museum of Old and New Art, Mount Wellington, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Mount Wellington as seen from the MONA

Eventually I caught a city bus back to the Hobart CBD and I sat by my sweaty self in the Shamrock Pub with a veggie burger and a cider. The moral of this story is twofold: always preplan your hiking route and never start at a brewery before you climb a mountain.

Song of the Day: The Nosebleed Section by Hilltop Hoods

The Rave in Sydney, Australia

Bass Rave, UFO Club, Valve Bar Basement
Loz Nonsense at Valve Bar Basement

I left a nearly empty bar and walked out into a hot Sydney night. I stood by the curb weighing my options. I walked up to two girls who left the bar a few minutes before I did. Hoarse from a weird cold I’d picked up in Brisbane, I asked if they knew of a better bar in the area. Rather than direct me to a bar, they invited me to a rave they were heading to. They could have sold me on a trip to Macca’s at that point, I was so relieved to have a destination and female companions. The only patrons I’d encountered in Side Bar were males with body odour.

The three of us crossed the street in the wrong direction, crossed back and moved on a changed course. The girls introduced themselves as we made our way north on Pitt Street: Bethanne, two years my junior and Cody, five years. They conversed freely with me and with nearly every male who passed. Actually, it was only with me that they conversed. They catcalled every male under the age of forty. To men moving in packs they called, “The boys, the boys!” To men in cars they called, “The boys, the boys!” To the poor solitary dude who had the misfortune of crossing our path they called, after some consultation between them, “The boy, the boy!” All of this was in reference to a video they showed me, the existence of which I have since been unable to verify.

After twenty minutes of walking the only place we had reached was a 7/11, where a couple of bogans in straw hats stuck Band-Aids on Cody’s scraped knee and Bethanne bought cigarettes. I began to wonder what the hell I was doing there and whether I should buy another Cherry Ripe. I didn’t. We exited and again changed course. We had walked in the wrong direction.

When we finally arrived at the Agincourt Hotel, we went up a few flights of stairs to find another empty bar. We were told to go to the basement so we went back down, past the pokies and horse racing broadcasts to a dimly lit bar called Valve.

Valve was disproportionately populated by white people with dreadlocks for an event called GlitchSys Bass Rave. The DJ, another white man with dreadlocks, played heavy dupstep while the crowd danced itself to frenzy to his repetitious beat. A man with crazy eyes passed out Spider-Man stickers to people dancing around the stage. I smiled like a grimacing emoji at the man and the shiny Spider-Man on my arm. I found Bethanne and Cody on the dance floor, themselves covered in shiny stickers. They asked if I wanted them to tell me before they left but I said I was able to make my own way back.

After a few hours of dancing I consulted a posted setlist and realized that I had, in fact, been there for about twenty minutes. A guy in goggles approached me twice to ask if I’d like him to buy me a drink, perhaps not realizing that I wasn’t two similarly dressed people but was instead one disinterested person. I waited around for the next set to start while the people around me continued to two-step to whatever was playing on the house speakers. I sighed and admitted to myself that I simply wasn’t on their level. I peeled the Spider-Man sticker from my arm and walked back out into the hot Sydney night.

Song of the Day: Diamond Heart by Lady Gaga

Sixteen Hours in Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou, China
Canton Tower, Haizhu District

A bargain price is never without its catch; inexpensive flights are no exception. When I read over the details of the bargain flight I found for a round trip from Vancouver to Melbourne, I realized the catch was a sixteen hour layover in Guangzhou, China.

Guangzhou is a city two hours northwest of Hong Kong. It is currently China’s third largest city behind Beijing and Shanghai, and it is generally considered an important node in the global economic system. This I learned from a Wikipedia search. The specifics of international geography are not my strong suit. I decided that a layover in Guangzhou agreed with me and all other details I could work out later.

Pearl River, Zhujiang River, Haizhu District
A group of men play cards along the Pearl River

The flight landed at six at night, two in the morning PST. What I thought was cloud cover as the plane made its descent turned out to be smog. I had no trouble getting a visa for a half day’s stay in China; I had a great deal of trouble locating my hotel even though it was practically attached to the airport. When I finally made it to the hotel my Raptors jersey and duffle bag were met with some side eyes but I had no issues checking in. Within an hour, I was back on the street and determined to take the subway to the Haizhu District. Two hundred metres out of the hotel lobby, I realized I couldn’t tell driveway from roadway.

I took an hour long taxi ride through the residential districts of Guangzhou. We drove past hundreds of apartment buildings, some clean white, many with stained facades. Windows glowed pale with fluorescent lights, casting eerie shadows in stairwells and against the clothes hung from lines across hundreds of small grated balconies. As we came closer to the Haizhu District more buildings were topped with gigantic neon signs, flashing coloured light onto the adjacent buildings. I wondered what it would be like to hang your shirts in the glow of red neon.

The taxi let me off along the Pearl River, near Canton Tower. The river walk was packed with pedestrians taking photos of the tower, of the river, of themselves, and of the coloured lights that seemed to beam from every bridge and building. I realized after the fact that I was in the district on a Friday during the opening night of the Guangzhou International Light Festival.

Liede Bridge during the Guangzhou International Light Festival

The lights and the crowd thrilled me at first but as I walked around, I began to feel lonely. I obliged the first pair of women who asked for a photo – surely they realized I was an average looking white person and not a Gigi Hadid in their midst – but declined anyone who asked after. The gaze of by passers made me feel alien. Never before had I been a visible minority. Huacheng Square was closed to pedestrians by the time I reached it, leaving me at a dead end a few kilometres from where I started on the riverbank opposite from where I intended to be. For the first time I was stuck by the realization that I could become lost in Guangzhou and if that happened, I wouldn’t be able to ask for help. In the middle of a crowd of thousands I was completely alone.

I hailed a return taxi at close to eleven. I showed the driver my hotel name in Cantonese on my phone. He raised his hand and made an engine sound. Yes, I was staying at the airport hotel. As he drove the winding highway past the neon lights and stained facades I struggled to stay awake, drifting and waking fitfully in the glare of five storey flashing signs.

In front of the hotel lobby I paid the driver in yuan, grateful to have enough small bills to pay the fare exactly. When I opened the door to exit the taxi, he began to protest loudly. He waved the money at me. I looked from the metre to the money, certain I had given him the right fare. I moved for the door again but he started to yell. I got out anyway. He motioned for the bellhop, with whom he conversed. The bellhop told me I owed an additional five yuan. “That’s not what the metre showed.” They spoke again. “Yes, five yuan.” I was prepared to argue it but the language barrier stacked the odds against me. I paid the five yuan. The equivalent of $1.05 Canadian wasn’t worth arguing about. I made my way back to my room, washed the city from my hair, and closed the curtains on the moonless sky.

Song of the Day: Jeopardy by Run The Jewels

Fear in Las Vegas

Image

When we go on family trips, my mother finds the upscale places visit, shop and eat. This frees my father and I up to find the lesser known places, what some may call the hidden gems, and what others may call the seedy back alleys. We spent most of our time in Las Vegas on the Strip. We stayed at The Venetian, and visited nearly all the hotels and casinos in the area while we were there. The casinos are beautiful and have features that make them unique, but they all offer a similar experience. We had seen enough slot machines and Asian fusion restaurants. We decided that we wanted to go somewhere different. We had heard about an area known as Downtown Las Vegas, and we decided we had to check it out.

We read a few reviews before we took off in our rented Ford. Here is an excerpt from one. “I’ve played poker at Binion’s – home of the World Series of Poker – at a table where everyone but me looked like one of those old men under the ghost masks on Scooby Doo.” We were sold. My mother reluctantly. I put on my silver sequinned dress, we jumped into our rental with the Colorado license plates, and we left the Strip.

Image

We arrived at the Fremont Street Experience. The Strip is full of lights, especially if you go to the older casinos, but it has nothing on Fremont Street. This area bears all the traces of old Las Vegas, complete with the original Vegas Vic sign. Above the famous signs is a light canopy that plays hourly shows with neon lights. We walked in and out of some smoky casinos that were indeed filled with Scooby Doo villains. As we continued down Fremont, we came across La Bayou. I wanted to go in for the Mardi Gras beads and the raffle. The place was dark, except for the light from the slot machines, with plastic masks and beads hung from branches that came down from the ceiling. I wanted to stay for the raffle. My mother put a $5 into a slot machine, and when she cashed out she received all nickels. We were playing around with all the nickels, when suddenly the raffle number was called. All seven of us in La Bayou stood at attention. An eighth man emerged when his number was called, popping out from behind the bar, yard stick margarita in hand. With the amount of alcohol he must have purchased, the man deserved a free spin.

Image

We left La Bayou covered in dirt from the nickels, and just in time for the light show. By that time, all sorts of characters had arrived. Old men looked at me in my sequinned dress as though they expected me to add to the Experience’s entertainment. I realize now that in Downtown Las Vegas, you never want to look more interesting than the entertainment. Following the light show was the classic rock cover band. When the band started playing “We Are the Champions,” the crowd swayed like Freddie Mercury himself was up on stage. We left the people to their king sized Budweisers and drinks in paper bags.

Image

We hopped back into the Colorado Ford, and left the Fremont Street Experience in search of a gas station so we could return the car. The streets around Fremont were just as spectacular, with lights advertising casinos, strip clubs and pawn shops. We passed the kind of motels you never want to end up at when you’re in Vegas. We passed bars and taco shacks, owned by men with named like Raoul, and still we didn’t see a gas station. We drove down streets that become increasingly dark, with pedestrians who looked increasingly sinister. It was then that we recalled a tip from another online review: don’t go off Fremont Street, and stay away from the alleys. When I read the tip the first time I thought, What is this, Gotham City?, but we continued a few blocks and found out that the review was right. We pulled into the first gas station we came across. My dad couldn’t get the car close enough to the pump, and when he got out of the car he saw that another had made it so that he couldn’t get to it. It was then that a man emerged from the shadows to ask my father to pay for his gas. Only then would my father be able to get his own. If that this point you’re noticing a trend of sudden appearances, let me tell you that it’s like all of Downtown Las Vegas was trained in the art by Criss Angel. Duly alarmed by the presence of a shadowy figure in the night, he got into the car without getting gas. We sped out of the gas station and turned around in the parking lot of an abandoned motel. We drove past wedding chapels looking at lights and shadows. We made a back alley turn, and finally came upon a gas station haunted by the denizens of downtown. We got the gas we needed and returned to the Strip without making any more stops.

Image

If there’s one lesson to be learned from our time in Vegas, it’s that you really should listen when they tell you not to go down the side streets.

Song of the Day: Viva Las Vegas by ZZ Top

If you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s in reference to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What’s happened to the loathing? Well, that’s what comes next.